Living Large in Micro-Housing

SF Efficiency Living!
Efficiency Living @ 83 McAllister, San Francisco!

A trend is spreading across the country, less square footage is more living. As a raging housing market battles for competitive square foot prices, behind the front-lines, a transition targeting quality of life supplied by ease and simplicity stands. San Francisco, Fort Worth and New York City are carrying a new American lifestyle, living large in micro-housing. Tiny house architects and dwellers alike are prioritizing freedom from tiresome property management, favoring an affordable lifestyle choice.

The micro-housing movement is a part of a much larger change. According to these pioneers, like HausBau Architects, the vision behind Cubix-SF, an urban micro-condo building, living in a modest 200-300 square feet in of one of the country’s highest priced locations is very attractive. Even San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener is campaigning for budget friendly micro-accommodations.

He is leading the legalization and construction of existing property in-law units, ranging in size from 200-750 square feet. “Our housing crisis is a complex one, and no one policy proposal will solve it. The units will have to be within existing habitable space – i.e., a garage, a large storage space, a large basement area. The units will have to come from unused space,” said Wiener to The Bay Area Reporter.

With smart and thorough design concepts, narrow spaces lend a cozy, efficiency without sacrificing functionality. Natural light, air and creative storage solutions reduce the tension between acquisition and display for a clean and modern aesthetic. Ancient design concepts are recycled to prove compact quarters save on tidy time, energy costs and encourage a limited footprint alongside Green living. “Even when you’re in these relatively tight areas, the eye doesn’t focus on the smaller moments- you’re getting borrowed views from the other rooms, making the space feel more generous”, says architect Philip Ryan of Studio Modh Architects in Brooklyn, New York. Tiny homes compliment their natural landscape, drawing the outdoors inside to broaden and protect the environment. To further expand the appeal of these small settings, architect Peter Fehrentz of Berlin, Germany encourages the use of a variety of color tones from the same palette to maximize the calming effect. He further suggests removing as many interior walls as possible and installing sliding doors to open and transform a scaled-down home.

San Francisco’s wave of miniature, cost-effective lodging has been borrowed from deeply rooted international traditions. With a historic focus on minimalism due to high-density population, space limits and affordable housing challenges, European innovators Gore, Gibberd and Saunders of Hampshire, England constructed the Emsworth Yacht Harbour in the late 1960’s. 50 elevated, free-standing structures span a modest 538 square feet. Arranged neatly in rows to capture privacy and sea views, residents share a unique and secret community get away. Units are highly desired. Most ownership transactions happen off-market, from word of mouth.

The micro-housing market’s momentum has spawned plans for a community of tiny homes state side in Sonoma County, California. Jay Shafer of Four Lights Tiny House Company is experimenting with the possibilities of micro-dwellings. Set to be completed by 2015, Shafer has zoned 70 houses to each be under 400 square feet. There’s even a conversation for a communal farm for residents. Currently, a restricted, yet active tiny house community in Washington D.C. serves as a teaching ground for Shafer’s big sister west coast project.

Jay Shafer's Micro-Dwellings Community
Jay Shafer’s Micro-Dwellings Community

As holistic self-sustainability turns critical, will pairing life down to the essentials be the exclusive path to living large?

Rita Roti is a broker associate / assistant manager at Zephyr Real Estate and can be reached at

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